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Professors available on World AIDS Day and vulnerable populations

HIV rates declining in cities, rising in rural areas; HIV safety net not as strong

In observance of World AIDS Day, Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism, Media, Integrated Marketing Communications professor Steven Thrasher and Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences’ Celeste Watkins-Hayes are available to talk about HIV and vulnerable populations.

Amid the backdrop of declining HIV diagnoses in the largest U.S. cities, many rural communities are grappling with a coming crisis. In Thrasher’s recent opinion piece, he explores the conditions under which a cluster of 80 new HIV infections have been diagnosed in one Appalachian county. 

Thrasher is the Daniel H. Renberg Chair of social justice in reporting and is an assistant professor of journalism and core faculty member of the Institute of Sexual and Gender Minority Health and Wellbeing at Northwestern University.

In a recent interview, Watkins-Hayes discusses the South as the region of the country where the HIV safety net is not as strong as in other parts of the country. 

The author of “Remaking a Life: How Women Living with HIV/AIDS Confront Inequality,” Watkins-Hayes is a professor of sociology and African American Studies at Northwestern. 

Quote from Professor Thrasher

“The twin impacts of HIV and deindustrialization are creating a dangerous combination throughout the rural U.S. The U.S. federal government, state governments, local businesses and local actors need to urgently adopt measures the health departments in cities like New York, San Francisco and Chicago have undertaken (such as safe needle programs, LGBTQ+ specific health measures and Medicaid expansion). They also need to decriminalize drug usage, sex work and HIV exposure itself, and to address some of the root causes of the epidemic: health disparities, homelessness, racism, homophobia and a lack of access to healthcare.”

Thrasher, whose research has mostly focused on African Americans and HIV/AIDS in cities and in the Mississippi River delta, is currently exploring how people in majority white suburban counties like St. Charles, Missouri, also are needlessly being made more vulnerable to the virus. Thrasher plans to do field research in West Virginia next year.  

Quote from Professor Watkins-Hayes

“Where we have really seen the (HIV) safety net falter is in the South. That’s for a couple of reasons. Although there’s been activism, there hasn't been necessarily the strength of the attention around the activism for the HIV work being done. It hasn't necessarily hit our evening news, though, in the ways that it has hit our news in D.C. and New York and San Francisco and other major cities. So the South has kind of languished due to a lack of attention, lack of resources, but also a reluctance on some policymakers to expand healthcare access to people in those regions of the country in ways that have affected what we now see in terms of rising HIV-infection rates in the South.”